Friday night, the Everett Theatre will open its production of "Steel Magnolias" with six local actresses, who tap into southern sass—and southern accents—in order to bring ubiquitous female friendships to life.
Six actresses, mostly locals, have spent the last few weeks trying out a deep southern drawl—a Louisiana drawl, to be exact. It's not easy. The speech has a cadence to it, with dropped "g's" and extended vowels. It's also thick, flavored with warm swamp water, Cajun spices and cold, sweet tea.
But, if you're going to tell the story of how southern female friendships marinate and, at times, boil over, the accent is one of the key ingredients. Leaving it out would be akin to serving unbuttered, unsalted grits. It's unacceptable.
So, day in and day out, these northern women have been rehearsing the accent, as well as the dialogue, of the female bonding experience made famous in the 1989 classic film "Steel Magnolias" for the Everett Theatre's own production of the iconic story. With a powerhouse cast, the movie—which was actually based on a successful Broadway play—explores the relationships of a multi-generational group of women with vast differences in education and income.
The Everett's production opens this weekend but the women portraying the characters made famous by the likes of Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts took time, in between rehearsals, to discuss their characters, the story and the definition of a "steel magnolia."
Kate Jerzak, Bear
Character Annelle Dupuy
Who is Annelle? Honestly, she's almost like four different characters, from start to finish. In the beginning, she's so unsure of herself on every level. She's shy. She's scared to let people in. Then, she meets the man she winds up marrying. Then, she finds the Lord. By the end, you can see how much she's grown because she's the one who ultimately knows just what to say when Shelby dies.
Explain what a "steel magnolia" is. It's a woman who is beautiful, inside and out. Steel doesn't mean literally made of steel, though. It means that you're tough, strong and you can handle anything life throws at you.
Is a "steel magnolia" always southern? No. Women anywhere could be one. It's about being strong but graceful in the face of adversity.
Cindy Baird, Middletown
Character Truvy Jones
Who is Truvy? She owns the local beauty salon and she seems to know everybody in town. She's got this fun, bubbly personality and she's one of those people who always sees the bright side of every situation. You see it in her when she's with her friends. She seems to like making everybody feel good. But, she also loves to get the scoop and has to know what everybody is doing.
The salon gets as much stage time as any character. Why do you think that is? It's a safe place. Everyone goes there and can let their true selves out. Plus, there's something therapeutic that happens with your hairdresser. A lot of feelings get explored.
Do you think northern women can relate to a story about southern women? Absolutely. I think we women all have these similar trials and tribulations. We have to keep our families together and balance that out with our careers. It's very relatable no matter where you're from.
Pat Cullinane, Middletown
Character M'Lynn Eatenton
Describe M'Lynn. She's always in control. Always. She's also devoted to her family, especially her daughter, Shelby. When the story begins, you can see that she's starting to realize that she's losing some of that control because Shelby is getting married. She's a great character to play, though. I mean, she seems to go through a major life change in every scene.
How does M'Lynn fit the "steel magnolia" definition? Well, for M'Lynn she faces her biggest fear with the terminal illness of her child. She's convinced she won't survive the death of Shelby and in that way, she seems so fragile. But, in the end, she is the only one who is able to stand by Shelby until the very end.
Mary Spacht, Bear
Character Shelby Eatenton
Describe the relationship between Shelby and her mom. They are very close. She's at the point in her life where she wants to pull away, though, and be on her own. It's hard for her but she knows she has to do it. They also battle a lot, especially where it concerns Shelby's health.
What's her personality like? She's very positive. Effervescent even. She tries to find the positive in every situation. For instance, she's a diabetic but she doesn't let it affect her or bother her in any way. She just deals with it.
Is she a steel magnolia? Well, steel magnolias are the tough women that survive all the tragedy and loss, surviving even when the men can't. Shelby's tough. She has a tough spirit that allows her to always see the positive side of things, even when her kidneys fail.
Gail Wagner, Middletown
Character Ouiser Boudreaux
Who is Ouiser? She's the town curmudgeon. But, she also has a heart of gold.
Is she hard to portray? She's so fun. There's almost no "over-the-top" with her. She says what she feels and just what she thinks. It makes her fun.
She and Clairee are especially close. Explain their friendship. I think they grew up together so they know almost everything about one another. They're total opposites, though.
How do you define a steel magnolia? They are always southern. They are strong. You see that in the play. Each one has gone through a personal crisis but they get through it. They always get through it. And, they help each other get through it. They make each other stronger.
Mary McKee, Chesepeake City, Md.
Character Clairee Belcher
How do you like playing Clairee? I love her .She's a riot. I wish I had her wit. But, I have to remember to slow down when I talk in her voice so that people can understand her.
How do you see her friendship with Ouiser? They're best friends. Not that they do everything together but they're soul mates. They're like Mutt and Jeff, yin and yang. They complement each other really well.
Do you think the play is an accurate representation of southern women? I do. There is a unique brand of southern women who are light and gracious. When I first moved south (for college), I had to learn how to be gracious. I thought I was but then I found out I was rude. You're always expected to see the bright side of things. That's not a sterotype, it's an expectation. But as sweet as they can be, they can also stab somebody just the same. Clairee is like that. She can be mean as hell but, with her delivery, she still comes out smelling like a magnolia.